Under the auspice of capitalism, we’re taught to consume, to take, to ingest at our leisure. Food has become one of the most hyper-glamorized commodities. Dining out is among the fastest growing retail sectors in the country.
Through varying levels of (self) awareness, restaurant cooks deftly navigate the complex dynamics of class, privilege, and legal status that play out in a changing South behind the kitchen door.
The product of their labor is dignified in public view, glorified on social media–cheekily, as #foodporn. It would not be presumptuous, then, to assume that cooks have developed a culinary expertise far superior to any diner’s palate. But we rarely consider their work as a skill. It’s the immigrant’s contribution to us.
The voyeuristic gaze of Instagram food porn dives into an aesthetically symmetrical view of a world that is inherently asymmetrical. Restaurants have long commodified minority and immigrant labor as well as the products of that labor—skills, recipes, teamwork—are likewise bought and sold. Business hierarchy is rooted in the power dynamic that flows into the dining room, where staff seldom stand on equal footing with customers.
The physical view from above, though, is what cooks see everyday, standing over our food, preparing it with their hands. Flipping the gaze, we realize it is a collective one. Curbing the insatiable desire to consume, Cravings examines the hands of those workers who put their dreams aside so you can post your own dreams on Instagram.
As a medium, portraiture is meant to give a fuller sense of a person, it’s meant to create empathy. Unfortunately, when someone is classified as a worker, their portraits often evoke sympathy in ways that are more charitable than familiar, eliciting our empathy at the expense of someone else’s storied reality, one that is sanitized and tokenized. We refrain from showing faces to honor the anonymity of some, while deconstructing and limiting our own voyeurism. This is not meant to satiate the viewer.
It must be noted that every single person featured in these photos is treated with respect and appreciation at their workplace, with fair wages and a sense of familial connection to their employers.